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For Niemann, Campbell, Lynch, Nichols, not being normal works just fine

Sinclair Cambridge, Cambridge, Mass., January 23, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Chances are high that this was not the normal gig for Jerrod Niemann, Craig Campbell and Dustin Lynch. For the fourth member onstage at the sold-out gig - Tim Nichols (it was likely that fans never heard of him, but for sure knew a chunk of the hit songs that he wrote), well, that may be the case.

Instead of opening for a bigger star in an arena or headlining a smaller club, this was a chance for the quartet to sit on their stools and trade songs and stories in an old-fashion guitar pull for which Nashville is known in a show billed as "Stars With Guitars."

Niemann underscored the good time feel of the night with his hit single "One More Drinking Song." Niemann, the most rock/pop artist on the bill, showed good vocal chops on the easy sing-a-long for the crowd. Niemann more than lived up to the idea of drinking as he imbibed a prodigious amount, although it never seemed to affect his ability at patter or song.

Campbell followed with another familiar song, "Outta My Head," which he said was the second longest charting song in history. Here as elsewhere on this night for the Georgian, he veered towards the more traditional end of the country spectrum.

Campbell was perhaps most outside his milieu, but that proved no problem and perhaps worked to his advantage. He's a low key, traditional country singer with a dyed-in-the-wool country voice.

But on this night, he got off his duff and danced - albeit somewhat woodenly, but with a sense of self-deprecation at least (aided and abetted by "negative" comments from Niemann about his abilities) - a chunk of times.

Campbell also turned in a credible cover of Lorde's "Royals," a song he put out on iTunes. Campbell doesn't quite have the bite of the New Zealand youth, but he deserves kudos for at least trying to go outside his box, while doing it country style.

As for Nichols, once upon a time - as in two decades ago- he did have a recording career going as one-half of Turner Nichols. But after one major label disc, he was done as a recording artist.

Nichols' career was far from over, despite telling the crowd, "I'm not really sure why I'm here." The crowd may have wondered the same thing, but he soon showed why he can make a living in music. He started with "Heads Carolina, Tails California," the hit for local singer Jo Dee Messina, before later tackling "That'd Be Alright" (Alan Jackson) and what proved to be perhaps the highlight of the evening with the crowd singing along, "Live Like You Were Dying."

Nichols didn't have the voice of others on the stage, but the quality of the songs carried him through.

Lynch, a rarity these days with a cowboy hat atop his head (as did Campbell, but that was in contrast to Niemann with the typical head covering these days of a baseball hat), went a bit cliché with the fast-paced "She Cranks My Tractor." In considering tractor songs, that was no match for Kenny Chesney's "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy."

Backed by his own guitarist, Lynch also trotted out a new song, the low key "Daddy's Boots." But he undercut his stint with a cover of Luke Bryan's milquetoast "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)," although Lynch gave it more of a country feel than the pop minded Bryan.

Lynch trotted out his biggest song, the hit "Cowboys & Angels," about his grandparents, stretching out the song to good effect as the close to the regular set.

The foursome strode the line between more traditional and contemporary, splitting the difference perhaps with a reading of Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places" with the crowd singing with gusto. Chances are that Brooks had a hand in influencing all four, although Campbell to a lesser extent.

True to the good time feel of the night, Niemann threw in a line from "One More Drinking Song."

Credit once again to well-regarded Boston country radio station WKLB for putting the gig together. This was not the first time they've operated in this format. The evening presented the artists in a different light, and it sure worked well.

Normal isn't always good. Chances are that Niemann, Campbell, Lynch and Nichols would wholeheartedly agree.